GEORGIA — President Donald Trump backtracked late Wednesday on Georgia’s planned reopening and called the easing of business restrictions set to start Friday as too soon. Just a day earlier the president said Gov. Brian Kemp “knows what he is doing,” even as some mayors worried lifting the state’s lockdown could cause coronavirus cases to spike.
On Monday, the governor spelled out a timeline for many types of businesses — from hair salons to restaurants and movie theaters — as well as churches to reopen to gatherings. Beginning Friday, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and their schools, and massage therapists can reopen statewide, following social distancing guidelines.
That will be followed on April 27 by the opening of theaters, private social clubs and dine-in services at restaurants as long as they follow social distancing and sanitation guidelines.
But during Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Trump changed course and said he disagreed “strongly” with Kemp’s decision because the state’s number of cases and hospitalizations is still climbing, but it’s ultimately the governor’s decision.
“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities, which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia,” Trump said about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. “But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right. I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he’s doing, but I want to let the governors do — now, if I see something totally egregious, totally out of line, I’ll do [something]. But I think spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barber shops in phase one, we’re going to have phase two very soon. It’s just too soon. I think it’s too soon.”
According to a model of coronavirus infection rates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Georgia passed its projected “peak” for daily deaths on April 7. But experts note the model also shows Georgia shouldn’t relax social distancing measures until after June 15, when no deaths from the disease are expected.
And the model says Georgia is six days away from reaching a peak usage of medical resources, which will run from April 28 into June. “After June 22, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size,” the model said.
Kemp tweeted that he had discussed Georgia’s plan to reopen businesses for limited operations with Trump earlier on Wednesday, and sidestepped the president’s criticism.
“I appreciate his bold leadership and insight during these difficult times and the framework provided by the White House to safely move states forward,” Kemp tweeted.
“Our next measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials. We will continue with this approach to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians. Just like the thousands of businesses currently operating throughout Georgia, I am confident that business owners who decide to reopen will adhere to Minimum Basic Operations, which prioritize the health and well-being of employees and customers,” the governor wrote.
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The businesses that are reopening face restrictions, including social distancing and regular sanitation. Businesses that allow more than 10 people at a single location must require at least a 6-foot distance between people.
Kemp released guidelines Monday night for the businesses to begin minimum basic operations to mitigate the exposure and spread of the coronavirus.
Trump was asked for his thoughts on the decision during the White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday.
“He’s a very capable man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s done a very good job as governor in Georgia,” Trump said, WXIA 11Alive reported.
Other officials have voiced their opinions, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) who said on Tuesday that he supports South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to reopen a small section of the state’s economy with a focus on social distancing.
“I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon,” Graham said on Twitter. “We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together. What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”
Trump was asked his thoughts on that, and said the governors of both states are “very capable people,” WXIA reported.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for reopening, released by Trump’s administration, says that states need to have 14 days of declining new case totals before they can begin easing restrictions.
Kemp said Monday that “favorable data, enhanced testing, and approval of healthcare professionals,” it’s safe for Georgia to take these steps. However, the numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed cases of coronavirus are still increasing in the state.
As of noon Wednesday, there have been 836 deaths, 20,740 cases, and 3,959 hospitalizations in Georgia. Deaths make up 4,03 percent of Georgia cases. From the numbers released at noon Tuesday, this is an increase of 859 cases, 180 hospitalizations and 37 deaths.
Fulton County still has recorded the most coronavirus cases thus far, with 2,222 cases and 84 deaths. Dougherty County in southwest Georgia, where Albany is the site of the state’s worst hotspot, is third with 1,468 cases but has recorded the most deaths with 107, more than any other Georgia county. DeKalb County surpassed Dougherty County with 1,587 cases, and 30 deaths.
The state’s shelter-in-place order is still active, Kemp said, and will expire at midnight April 30.
“We urge everyone to continue to follow CDC and DPH guidance by sheltering in place as often as you can,” Kemp said. “Limit your travel and limit who goes with you on errands to prevent potential exposure. If possible, wear face masks or cloth coverings when you are in public to slow the spread of coronavirus.
For medically fragile and elderly residents, the shelter-in-place order remains through May 13, the day Georgia’s public health emergency expires.
“While I am encouraged by the data, proud of what we have accomplished, and confident of our plan moving forward, I know that the journey ahead is long,” Kemp said. “We must remain laser-focused on defeating this virus and keeping Georgians safe. We must find ways to revitalize communities devastated by COVID-19. We must identify opportunities for economic growth and prosperity.